A Life of Sacrifice

Mark 8:31-38
2nd Sunday in Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

O God, light of the minds that know you, life of the souls that love you,
strength of the thoughts that seek you: Help us so to know you that we may truly love you, so to love you that we may fully serve you, whose sacrificial service is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Are you a fickle fan of Jesus Christ or a follower of Jesus Christ? That’s today’s question. A fickle fan only follows when it’s easy, when it’s a winning game. A loyal follower of the Duke basketball team is still cheering today, even after they were stomped on by the Carolina Tarheels last night.

We live in a day of casual Christianity, but today’s text is nothing but casual. It is not popular to talk about sacrifice and self-denial. Casual Christians want to be part of the flock, but don’t particularly want to follow the Shepherd. They want the forgiveness of the cross without the call to be cross-bearers. Casual Christians come to worship when it is convenient for them. They want to feel good on Sunday morning in church, but offer no commitment on Monday-Saturday. You cannot have the crown of Christianity without the cross. You cannot have Easter without Good Friday. You cannot have deep joy without the deep life of sacrifice.

The scripture we are reading is the turning point in Mark’s Gospel. Until now the Christ demonstrated God’s reign in the popular forms of strength and triumph as he has taught, healed, and fed the masses. Everyone wants to follow that Christ. He’s the winner! Now he shifts to the other side of the coin of God’s power – authority in the form of weakness and defeat. Peter as representative of the disciples tries to challenge this notion of a suffering, rejected, killed Messiah. But Jesus rebukes him, even calling Peter, Satan. Then Jesus makes it clear that following him means living a life of sacrifice. That message is not popular. In fact, it is downright offensive. You can feel the edginess of this text.

Listen for the power of the Holy Spirit speaking to us today about a new way of living that involves dying, a new way of winning that involves losing, a new way of having more by having less, giving away to others.

Mark 8:31-38

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." 34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels." (NRSV)

Jesus demonstrated his willingness to yield to this life of sacrifice throughout his entire existence. Ephesians 5:2 states, "Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." Mark 10:45 records that Jesus "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Christ was completely submitted to His Father’s will, even though it meant enduring physical pain, facing rejection, bearing the sins of all humanity, and accepting a tortuous death. Jesus experienced the high cost of living a life of sacrificial love, but He also experienced the eternal reward of obedience, sitting now at the right hand of God, helping us connect with God.

When Jesus says that we are to take up our cross, He is saying that we are to live as dead people. Paul helps us understand that when he tells the Galatians in 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

God is calling you to a life of sacrifice and a willingness to go wherever He takes you, to minister to whomever He brings you, and to go whenever He asks you. The question is, “Are you willing to live that life of sacrifice?” or will you wimp out at the first serious test of your resolve to follow Christ?

A life of sacrifice does not mean being a doormat for every abusive person whom you meet. A life of sacrifice does not mean having a self-deprecating attitude, saying, “I am a worthless, no good human being.” No a life of sacrifice means renouncing our right to rule our own lives. Sacrifice begins with all the little stuff. It is looking not to my own interests but to the interests of others, as Paul says in Philippians 2. Sacrifice can happen in the Peace fellowship hour. Is the conversation all about you or do you ask meaningful questions of others? Do you even linger long enough to show interest in other people? That’s a sacrifice, getting outside yourself, giving up some time, listening well to others.

There is opportunity for sacrifice in your own home. Do you expect your spouse, your parents, your partner, your roommate to pay all the bills, do all the dishes, wash all the clothes, cook all the meals, or is there some shared arrangement of serving one another, of sacrificing gladly for one another. Of going the extra mile for the other, doing favors that others will especially appreciate? There is opportunity for sacrifice in your workplace and school. Do you have an ethic that keeps you working hard for the sake of others, caring for the best for others, or is your workplace or school all about your profit, your popularity, your benefit, your bonuses, your grades. Who is being blessed by your diligence? Anybody besides yourself?

Opportunity abounds for sacrifice at church as we live into our Lenten disciplines. Do you think I feel like giving up my quiet Saturday, the day when I need to gear up for Sundays? Do you think I really want to participate in a prayer vigil for the justice of farmworkers? The self-centered part of me would really rather stay home, but I believe I am called to sacrifice my self-oriented day for a chance that farmworkers might be paid more fairly by Publix and the farmers who sell to Publix.

I was asked to prayerfully consider fasting all week with them, and six days of fasting was a sacrifice I could not make, but Pastor Tricia and I are each participating partially this week in the fast to be in solidarity and in prayer with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. Do we like fasting? No. I get in a bad mood when I fast even for part of a day, but through prayer we will draw near to God and to those in great need of our eating sacrifice. Which one of us is not willing to pay a little more for a tomato that we pick out o the store, so that the ones who pick them in the fields have enough income to live? Isaiah said, “Is this not the fast I choose – to loose the bond of injustice?”

Have you sacrificed a few dollars and some time to contribute shares of beans and rice? That’s another way to help impoverished farmworkers. Some of our Peace family members sacrifice every Thursday morning to pack those beans and rice and other food items for the hundreds of families who are delighted to receive them. When you begin to make a habit of sacrificing, then little-by little you begin to experience some joy in it.

Methodist professor of preaching Fred Craddock once gave an analogy in money, “We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking $l0,000 dollars and laying it on the table—‘Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.’ “But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $l0,000 for dollar bills. We go through life putting out a dollar here and $5 dollars there and $50 elsewhere. It’s the little by little gifts that add up and that change our attitude about giving. It is the gifts of time and attention. Listening compassionately to the person whose banter drives us crazy. Making gentle conversation with the kid who nearly knocked us over running through the hallway. Taking time with a neighbor or giving our place in line at the grocery store or someone who is harried. Being grace-filled and accommodating when there’s been a misunderstanding. Admitting your own fault and asking for the other’s forgiveness is a significant sacrifice.

I firmly believe Jesus Christ is asking each of us this Lent to consider giving to the point of sacrifice in some area of our lives. Giving generously, loving sacrificially. Giving up something you don’t want to give. What do you love more than you love Jesus Christ? What do you trust more than you trust Jesus Christ. That’s the death you are called to die. That’s the cross you must bear – giving that up.

It’s the idea of being willing to go all the way for Jesus - no holds barred and no turning back - just a steady, humble walk that follows His footsteps and His path through this world.

True sacrifice is not a once-and-done deed. When you sacrifice, you give up a part of yourself that you will not get back. You let go of your grasp and offer it up for the bigger picture, for a purpose larger than yourself. There’s no going back. It’s transformational, and every part of you is affected.

Sacrifice is not just about lavish acts; it’s about offering up every little choice, every step, and every decision to God’s plan. It’s about asking in each moment, “How can I be a blessing? How can I do good today?” It is in those small choices that we slowly start to transform ourselves and the world around us.

There is a sense in which Christians must give their lives to God every day. This is not necessarily a physical death as Jesus died for us (though such might be required), but a daily total sacrifice of self to do the will of Jesus.
Whatever He wants with my life is what must be done with it. What I want no longer matters, but I give myself for Him, just as He gave Himself for us.

If you think about it, any great achievement requires torture. Athletes torture their bodies. Thinkers torture their minds. And we get that on the physical and intellectual plane, but wish there was another way on the spiritual plane. We want to be casual Christians, coasting along comfortably. But the reality is: No pain. No gain. It’s not pain for pain’s sake. That makes no more sense than it makes for an athlete to torture his or her body with no purpose. I am not recommending that you drive nails into your hands to be like Jesus or to get someone to whip you, so you feel pain. I am not recommending that you wallow in despair because of all the pain and suffering of people in this world.

No, the pain of sacrifice has to contain the meaningful purpose of loving, serving, blessing another.

Does your grief for the people affected by tornadoes inspire you to pray for them, to contribute to the One Great Hour of Sharing Offering, which will be a blessing to them and others in their predicament? Does you concern for the plight of farmworkers inspire you to participate with me on Saturday or possibly to take on prayer and fasting for this one day this week? Does it make you want to supply our Beth-El Baggers on Thursdays with plenty of money for beans and rice?

"If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” It is a matter of dying to self-centeredness every day. Think about Christ as he faced the insults and the abuse that came to him in the week we now call Holy Week. And he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” And if you keep dying to self, and living like Christ, you’ll come alive in ways you never imagined. In fact, you’ll live forever in the abiding and deep joy of your salvation.

Everlasting God,
in whom we live and move and have our being:
You have made us for yourself,
so that our hearts are restless
until they rest in you.
Give us purity of heart and strength of purpose,
that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will,
no weakness keep us from doing it;
that in your light we may see light clearly,
and in your service find perfect freedom;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen